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Authorities dismiss claims of ‘pig butchering romance scam,’ say efforts on to prevent trafficking in Sihanouk Province

This photo taken on Sept. 26, 2022, shows a delivery worker standing in front of the Immigration Removal Center in Sihanoukville in Preah Sihanouk province. Authorities said investigations were launched in response to a March 8 report by BBC claiming that four Chinese nationals were confined, tortured and forced to work online romance scams. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 20, 2023 07:00 AM GMT

Updated: April 20, 2023 10:13 AM GMT

Cambodian authorities have dismissed a BBC report into human trafficking that highlighted a “pig butchering romance scam” allegedly part of operations run by criminal syndicates in the southern port town of Sihanoukville.

The Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration said investigations were launched in response to a March 8 report by the UK broadcaster claiming that four Chinese nationals were confined, tortured, and forced to work online romance scams.

“This video, by no means, reflected the reality of the current situation,” the administration said in a statement, “and made wrongful conclusions and groundless allegations.”

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“Therefore, the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration would like to completely dismiss this publication of the BBC News dated 8 March 2023 under the title ‘Pig Butchering Romance Scam,’” it said.

Online scammers often describe their victims as “pigs.”

“Fattening the pig” means to lay the groundwork for “butchering the pig,” which means to extract the victim’s money.

Cambodia experienced a significant upsurge in human trafficking during the Covid-19 pandemic and the operation of “slave compounds,” where victims were duped by false promises of high-paid jobs and forced to work online rackets.

Sihanoukville provincial authorities said their investigations focused on the Huang Le compound and the Majestic 2 Casino, which were pictured in the BBC report, but “all of which showed no sign of neither forced captivity nor torture.”

“The video was also linked with certain allegations and graphics, which severely affected the honor and dignity of the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Authority as well as the leadership of the Royal Government of Cambodia,” it said.

Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Pakistan, and China, as well as a long list of human rights groups, had warned of major trafficking rings luring their citizens to Cambodia where the overwhelming majority were transported to Sihanoukville.

Online scams often involved gambling, cryptocurrencies, real estate, stock market, and romance scams with scammers forced to work up to 20 hours a day. Organ harvesting has also emerged as an issue.

Authorities here insist they have worked hard to eradicate the scourge, more so since the United States dropped Cambodia to the bottom tier of its human trafficking index in July last year.

NGOs also say human traffickers have moved many of their operations out of Cambodia and into Myanmar near the Thai border where they have taken advantage of the civil war and operate with impunity.

The statement said authorities would conduct regular inspections to prevent any attempt to use Sihanouk province for trafficking while urging the public to promote investment and tourism, and especially “to change the negative perspectives that had taken place in the past.”

Nevertheless, on Monday, the Interior Ministry said it had received 13 reports of human trafficking this month resulting in the rescue of 32 foreigners and Cambodians. It also said 177 cases of human trafficking from last year were still under investigation and that 275 cases had been solved with the arrests of 129 suspects.

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